"We weren't being aggressive defensively," sophomore guard Marcus Paige told reporters following the game. "We were allowing them to run their offense and get the shots they wanted. We always talk about trying to take something away, take a pass away, deny a pass to the elbow or pressure the guard a little bit. We were letting them run what we call ‘dummy offense' where there's no defense."
The Fighting Irish had used a similar formula to upset Duke at Purcell Pavilion five weeks ago, maximizing offensive efficiency while limiting exposure on the defensive end. The Tar Heels wanted no part in joining their Tobacco Road rival in South Bend heartache, instead ramping up their defensive intensity and running the Fighting Irish out of their gym.
Notre Dame managed just two field goals and one offensive rebound over its final 14 possessions of the first half to go along with four turnovers. UNC scored seven points off those four turnovers. The Fighting Irish's final five possessions consisted of three missed 3-pointers and a pair of turnovers.
While UNC technically closed the first half on a 17-4 run, a more accurate description of what occurred was a complete in-game adjustment. After the slow start, the Tar Heels capitalized on their significant athletic advantage and outplayed the Irish for most of the second half.
"In the second half I think our defense was more active," UNC head coach Roy Williams said. "We came up with loose balls, came up with some turnovers and then all of a sudden we got our break going as well."
UNC led 57-41 with 7:25 to play and had outscored Notre Dame 23-8 in points off turnovers and 8-0 in fast break points since the 19-10 deficit.
Notre Dame's 17 turnovers were its second-most all season (20 vs. Virginia). UNC has forced 13 turnovers per game over its last seven outings.
The Tar Heels' 13 steals on Saturday were a season high. J.P. Tokoto and James Michael McAdoo both had four steals each, while Brice Johnson added three.
The Fighting Irish entered the game ranked 13th nationally with a 1.49 assist-to-turnover ratio, but had a negative ratio (14 assists, 17 turnovers) against UNC.
"There's no question the turnovers are a big part of our game because we like to run the ball," Williams said. "In the open court we make some good decisions and I think that led to some good basketball and some open shots around the basket."
Notre Dame shot 41.9 percent from the floor (2-of-17 from 3) after its hot start and 45.5 percent for the game.
In what has become a staple explanation this season, McAdoo pointed to his team's improved sense of urgency on the defensive end of the floor for its effectiveness of late.
"With that is being disciplined and just being really sound – Coach uses that word a lot – and I think that really has to do with 1-5 playing together and realizing that although we do strive to play perfect defense, someone is eventually going to mess up, but there's four other guys out there on the court that can help cover up for that," McAdoo said.
UNC is averaging 14.8 points off turnovers during its five-game winning streak, including 19 against Maryland and 23 at Notre Dame.